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Santorum's Title X flip-flop

I was getting ready to write something nice about Rick Santorum. Then Rick Santorum talked me out of it.

The nice thing was about the former Pennsylvania senator's self-described support for Title X, the federally funded family planning program that provides contraceptive services for low-income women.

Santorum has pointed to Title X in explaining his position on contraception: personally opposed but not in favor of imposing that view on others.

Hmmm, impressive. Especially because Mitt Romney has said he would eliminate funding for Title X. This offers evidence that Santorum can separate his personal morality from his public policy stances.

Indeed, after Santorum mega-donor Foster Friess "humorously" suggested that women practice birth control by holding an aspirin between their knees, Santorum defended himself by invoking Title X.

"It's funny that I've been criticized by Governor Romney and by Ron Paul for actually having voted for something called Title X, which is actually federal funding of contraception," Santorum told CBS' Charlie Rose. "My public policy beliefs are that this contraception should be available. Again, I've supported Title X funding."

Excellent. Except, here is Santorum, five days later, at the Arizona presidential debate:

"As Congressman Paul knows, I opposed Title X funding. I've always opposed Title X funding, but it's included in a large appropriation bill that includes a whole host of other things," Santorum said.

"What I did, because Title X was always pushed through I said, well, if you're going to have Title X funding, then we're going to create something called Title XX, which is going to provide funding for abstinence-based programs."

When it comes to flip-flops, this may be a land speed record. If Santorum has "always opposed Title X funding," you sure can't tell from his record. His response in the CBS interview wasn't some stray comment -- it's consistent with what Santorum has been saying on the campaign trail, and for years before.

Santorum in 2006: "From a governmental point of view, I support, you know, Title X and have voted for contraception."

At the debate, Romney tried to call Santorum on his about-face. "You didn't say, 'This is something I was opposed to; it wasn't something I would have done,' " Romney noted. "You said this in a positive light, 'I voted for Title X.' "

The notion that this is a black mark on Santorum's record -- the fact that the Arizona audience booed when he began to explain away his vote in favor of Title X -- illustrates just how extreme the Republican discourse has become.

Opposing a program that prevents unwanted pregnancies -- and therefore reduces the number of abortions -- is crazy.

The case against Title X funding tends to center on the money the program provides to Planned Parenthood, and the group's simultaneous involvement in performing abortions. This argument makes no sense, even if you accept the contention that federal money somehow helps subsidize Planned Parenthood's abortion services. Less than a quarter of Title X funds -- $70 million of $327 million -- goes to Planned Parenthood. As a matter of fiscal responsibility, this is a smart investment. Preventing unwanted pregnancies saves money.

The candidates would do well to heed the advice of a fellow Republican: "We need to take sensationalism out of this topic," he said. "If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter."

The Republican was George H.W. Bush, then a Texas congressman, arguing for the creation of Title X in 1969. But that was four decades -- and a different Republican Party -- ago.